The next two posts will look at two films I watched prior to their Best Picture nominations.
First up the movie that is currently just ahead of Birdman in the bookies’ rankings to take the Best Picture prize. That film is Boyhood and is without a doubt the most ambitious of this year’s nominees primarily as it took twelve years to complete. Director Richard Linklater’s aim was to tell the story of a young boy and his parents from first grade all the way through to graduation. Rather than do this using a number of different actors; Linklater used the same actor to play Mason Evans Jr. from age six to age eighteen. The actor in question was Ellar Coltrane who thankfully was able to stay motivated enough to commit to a project that would loom heavy over the majority of his adolescence. Boyhood’s other central players were Patricia Arquette, Linklater’s daughter Lorelai and his regular contributor Ethan Hawke. Its achievement enough for Linklater to have completed this project but what makes Boyhood so special is the fact that it’s a memorable film full of believable characters. With Mason’s parents having separated before the film starts, he and his sister Samantha live with their mother Olivia whilst Mason Sr. appears sporadically throughout the story. Olivia’s luck with men isn’t great as she hooks up with her aggressive former professor and a similarly angry war veteran. Meanwhile we see Mason and Samantha grow up before our eyes with the former discovering a love of photography and finding love with his first high school girlfriend. One of Boyhood’s strengths is that not every scene captures a big life event for Mason and instead some of the moments we witness are quite arbitrary. But at the same time it gives us a greater understanding of the character and as he grows up we see where he’s got his inspiration from.
Although the dialogue in Boyhood isn’t improvised, Linklater’s discussions with the cast influenced his decisions of where to place certain scenes in order to ensure authenticity. The result is a film where you feel like you’re eavesdropping on a family’s life on a yearly basis. If I were to pick up an issue I have with Boyhood then it’s in the performance of Coltrane himself who I found to be increasingly annoying as the film progressed. In the early part of the film Coltrane’s natural innocence meant that Mason felt like any other boy and as a result you felt his pain during Olivia’s marriage to the drunken professor. But as Coltrane became more aware of the camera I felt that his acting wasn’t up to scratch and at some points I found Mason a little bit too whiny for his own good. Indeed, when his high school girlfriend split up with him I had very little sympathy for Mason due to the fact that Coltrane had done little to make me care for this older incarnation of the character. Luckily, Coltrane is backed up by brilliant on-screen parents; with both Hawke and Arquette nominated for Supporting Oscars. Hawke’s man-child act totally lent itself to deadbeat dad Mason Sr. and I felt he and Coltrane brought out the best in one another. Meanwhile Arquette, currently favourite to scoop the Best Supporting Actress prize, gives a heart-warming portrayal of a woman just trying to do the best for her kids. As this is a Linklater film, the soundtrack is also incredible with each song summing up a different year perfectly. Linklater himself is more than likely to get the Best Director Oscar and with good reason as he deserves to be rewarded for pulling off this cinematic feat. Whilst I don’t think Boyhood is as perfect as others do, it’s an emotional rollercoaster that almost every audience member can relate to and it also brilliantly sums up what it’s like to grow up in the early 21st century.